Are car makers about to revolutionise manufacturing... again?

White Papers | May, 2016

By David Nagy

The automotive industry has been at the forefront of innovation since the first Model T rolled off the Henry Ford’s lines and ushered in a new era of mass production. From just-in-time manufacturing to the recent emergence of smart technology, the advances made by car makers have helped define the modern world. But while precision and safety have come to define almost every aspect of both business and commercial life today, the emergence of complex technology has placed manufacturing standards in the spotlight. 

 Today, it isn’t just how you engineer and manufacture a vehicle or product, it’s how well you produce it and how your processes ensure quality and safety.

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Necessity breeds inventions

The automotive industry has been marred in recent years by a string of quality-related issues. From faulty ignition switches to the ongoing Takata airbag scandal, historical oversights have caused injuries and fatalities. In fact, the laer has been called the “largest and most complex safety recall in US history”, impacting millions of vehicles – and drivers. When products directly impact human lives, quality cannot be compromised. Whilst Takata works hard to resolve current issues, prevention would undoubtedly have been the best cure.

Huge efforts have been made to leverage analytics in manufacturing processes to prevent potential complications from escalating.

But the marriage of new technologies does not yet address the potential “go-fever” of pressing forward with a plan despite signs of high risk. These examples emphasise the fact that no supply chain exists in isolation, and the failures of one cog can impact the entire machine, figuratively and literally! Whilst growth in technology has spurred on a myriad of important supplier activity, it is crucial for all external factors and partners to be veed for quality to ensure consistency throughout the entire supply chain, otherwise internal processes are futile.

The new future

Analytical tools have reached an impressive degree of sophistication and should play an important role in minimising error. Surprisingly though, according to a recent survey carried out by Accenture, “the use of big data analytics in the supply chain function is not widespread or well-coordinated across global companies, and there is lile consensus among companies on how to develop, structure and deploy the capabilities that are key to success.”

44% of companies’ supply chain functions make use of one or more sophisticated tool

“More than a third of executives reported being engaged in serious conversations to implement analytics in the supply chain, and three out of 10 already have an initiative in place to implement analytics. Companies that embed big data analytics in their operations are far more likely to generate a range of important supply chain benefits. Just under half of the companies surveyed (44%) said that their entire supply chain functions make use of one or more sophisticated tool to inform daily decisions via the use of big data.” The report found that companies employing a dedicated team of data analysts greatly increase their chances of enjoying a range of important supply chain benefits from their use of big data analytics. Benefits include: improved cost to serve, reduced order-to-delivery cycle times and beer customer and supplier relationships. It seems that although the value of big data analytics is fully recognised, the difficulty lies in working out the best way to actually use it to improve overall business.

From automotive to mobility

For the automotive industry, quality and safety have long been at the sharp end of the competitive landscape. And with the emergence of technology-led vehicles, the industry is suddenly in a position to access vast amounts of data about the performance of its products. The rise of external players like Google and Apple – and with it their fastidious and enormous focus on data – has helped reshape the narrative in the automotive industry, one that has shifted perceptions. From driverless cars to connected vehicles, the entire industry is in transition to “mobility”. While these new players bring lessons in big data, traditional manufacturers have more than a century of experience behind them.

They’re perfectly positioned to combine their world-class industrial processes with a new focus on data-led quality assurance. 

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General Motors is several years into a massive IT transformation, one that involves bringing technology back in–house by hiring thousands of technology professionals and consolidating data centers into two sites in the US (benchmarked to best-in-class technologies used at Facebook and Google). Two years ago, General Motors was already making progress in consolidating manufacturing data from different brands and models for analysis with the goal of improving vehicle quality.

In the last month, Fanuc, Cisco and Rockwell Automation announced that they are working together to develop a platform that connects CNC machines, robots, peripheral devices and sensors to deliver analytics that optimise manufacturing capabilities. The companies are implementing this platform for automakers, leveraging artificial intelligence to increase productivity, efficiencies and quality.ionals and consolidating data centers into two sites in the US (benchmarked to best-in-class technologies used at Facebook and Google). Two years ago, General Motors was already making progress in consolidating manufacturing data from different brands and models for analysis with the goal of improving vehicle quality.

Quality control

Tom Peters, an American author and expert on business management practices, said: “Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing, layout, processes, and procedures”. Having the right people at the forefront of data and analytics will help streamline manufacturing processes, including quicker reactions to  changes, improved decision making, cross-functional views, optimised supply chain performance and the garnering of crucial insights that will shape the next generation.

It is for this reason that senior talent in the automotive industry has always been highly sought after due to their unique ability to apply highly effective engineering and manufacturing systems and processes on a mass scale. The mistakes of our past fuel the greatest innovations of the future. Historically, the research and innovations led by leaders in the automotive industry have set the precedent for manufacturing standards in total quality management across a wide variety of other industries and sectors. The golden thread linking them all together is the focus on quality. So is this the next in a long line of innovations to trickle down and shape the wider industry of tomorrow?
 

Visit the DHR Blog for further insights into data management and analytics from our APAC consultants.